Books On Books Collection – The Poetics of Reason (2020)

The Poetics of Reason (2020)
Text: Éric Lapierre, Ambra Fabi and Giovanni Piovene, Mariabruna Fabrizzi and Fosco Lucarelli, Sébastien Marot, and Laurent Esmilaire and Tristan Chadney. Design: Marco Balesteros
Five-volume set of perfect bound paperbacks in bellyband; laminated display letters on front cover, tinted fore-edges. H212 x W130 mm, 712 pages. Acquired from Small Projects, S.A., 19 February 2020.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

“The Poetics of Reason” was the title and theme for the fifth Lisbon Architecture Triennale in 2019 (the first was in 2007). Awarded the ADG Laus 2020 Golden Prize in the category of editorial graphic design, this work stands well with Bruno Munari’s three small 1960’s books on the square, circle and triangle, now available in a single volume, and calls to mind several works testifying to the relationship between architecture and book art. In the first of the five volumes, Éric Lapierre even interweaves with his text on architectural rationality illustrations from book artists such as Bernd and Hilla Becher, Sol Lewitt and Ed Ruscha — all without comment, in itself conveying their implicit relevance. His similar display of a page from Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard — that progenitor of modern and post-modern book art — speaks to the role that space — les blancs, as Mallarmé calls it — plays in these adjacent communities.

136 pages

The second volume, by Ambra Fabi and Giovanni Piovene, draws in Leon Battista Alberti, of course, whose columns ornament works by Mari Eckstein Gower, Helen Malone and many other book artists.

136 pages

Drawing on Gaston Bachelard and Juhani Pallasmaa as it does, the third volume, by Mariabruna Fabrizzi and Fosco Lucarelli, calls to mind the work of Olafur Eliasson and Marian Macken here in the Books On Books Collection and elsewhere. Anyone familiar with Richard Niessen’s The Typographic Palace of Masonry will appreciate Fabrizzi and Fosco’s exploration of where architecture, imagination and memory intersect.

136 pages

In the lengthiest of the five volumes, Sébastien Marot takes us into the territory of urban architecture and the anthropocene, also occupied by book artists Sarah Bryant, Emily Speed, Philip Zimmermann and many others.

216 pages

The last and shortest volume, put together by Laurent Esmilaire and Tristan Chadney, consists mostly of photos that may remind the viewer of Irma Boom’s Elements of Architecture, with Rem Koolhaas, or Strip, with Kees Christiaanse — especially in conjunction with the tinted fore edges.

88 pages

Referenced below, Pedro Vada’s review of the Triennale and the five separate sites across which it occurred in Portugal provides more insight into the five volumes themselves. Marco Ballesteros LETRA website provides additional images of the five volumes’ design.

Further Reading

Architecture“. 12 November 2018. Books On Books Collection.

SOCKS Studio, an extraordinary website run by Fabrizzi and Lucarelli.

Beaumont, Eleanor. 16 January 2019. “Interview with Irma Boom“, The Architectural Review.

Munari, Bruno. 2015. Bruno Munari: Square Circle Triangle. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Vada, Pedro. 24 July 2019. “Details about Lisbon Triennale 2019“. ArchDaily. Accessed 17 August 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Aaron Cohick

The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press (third iteration) (2017)

The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press (third iteration) (2017) Aaron Cohick
Booklet, saddle-stapled, risograph, letterpress/collagraph, and hand painting. H165.1 x W139.7 mm (closed), 20 pages. #000611, unlimited, iterative edition. Acquired from New Lights Press, 11 December 2020.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press (third iteration) has multiple starting points. Even in its first iteration, we have

  • The book is a dangerously unstable object, always between, continuously opening. It is interstitial, occupying many planes at once.
  • Digital technology has killed the book, finally.
  • The book is an impossible thing — comprised entirely of edges and full of holes. It moves. It happens in between.
  • Readers move through authors and books. Books move through readers and authors. Authors move through books and readers. They exist between each other’s pages. They only exist in between.
  • The form of the book, the history of the book, and the processes involved in its production provide a foundation for rethinking and re-evaluating the dominant discourse(s) of contemporary art.
  • The book … exemplifies a model that expands beyond form and content…. It is a field, whose axis points [form, content, production and reception] are always held in tension. In this model a piece or practice is a “zone of activity.”

Moreover, there are ten refinements on these starting points, touching on Julia Kristeva’s “intertextuality”, Roland Barthes’ “death of the author”, Michel Foucault’s “death of the book” and much more in the same vein. Each iteration even has diagram and footnotes, underscoring the academic nature of the starting points.

The New Manifesto of the Newlights Press (first iteration) (2009)

The second iteration emphasizes the starting points of physicality and more so the role of the reader:

  • [The book] is shot through with sunlight, hooks, teeth. It blinds, catches, gnaws.
  • From the book we gather the scraps of ourselves
  • [T]he reader is both a consumer and a producer.
  • Our existence is a constant generating of text.
  • A book read is a book alive — breathing, beating, shining and reverberating through its readers.

But the second iteration’s most important additional starting point is this:

  • We find [books] participating more & more in the world of visual art. This is extremely dangerous, but also potentially revelatory.

The New Manifesto of the Newlights Press (second iteration) (2013)

By its third iteration, The New Manifesto‘s words been further refined as a combination of announcement, exposition, lyric and prayer. It soars beyond literary theories and finds birds of a closer feather among Ulises Carrión and Michalis Pichler.

The book is a dangerously unstable object // It is a series of edges // Once clustered and knotted // Now open and spreading // Now cutting and bending // Mostly // The book betrays // Mostly // The book howls // The book falls apart in the face of our anguish // In the face of our quiet // In the silence of our slipping // Mostly // It will also always be something else // That we did not // Can not yet // See // The book is a remarkable technology // It is a shimmering substance // It is a noise of the hands and thought // The book is perhaps now a dead thing // In the hands of the dead // So be it // We never mattered much anyway // Beyond our capacity to consume // Our capacity to labor // We are fuel // So be it // We remain in the dark // With these books // The original autonomous window technology that is us looking through // At // In // Against // With care // The book returns our labor to us //

If a new edition of Publishing Manifestos is ever issued, Cohick’s hortatory words should be considered. The words, however, cannot be considered alone. Over the three iterations, The New Manifesto — the only one in the collection and, therefore, the only one tangible for the visitor — has “participated more & more in the world of visual art”. Cohick’s use of the collagraphic technique increases. It adds painterliness to the booklets as well as a sense of depth and spatial play within the page, across the gutter and from recto to verso pages. In a series of online essays for the College Book Art Association, Cohick confirms the pleasure and intent here:

Collagraph is a well-known technique and is usually taught as part of introductory letterpress courses. It has an immediacy and fidelity that is very exciting—you can stick a leaf or other flat object to a block, print it, and get a decent image of that object. Unfortunately it usually stops there. Those flat objects are hard to push beyond that initial single-color print. Linoleum, photopolymer, wood and metal type, and to some extent woodcut are all made to be “neutral” printing surfaces—flat and smooth. Trying to get collagraph to be flat and smooth begs the question: why use collagraph at all? In collagraph the material that makes the plate is not neutral—the material is exactly the point. That embrace of material and its many, varied effects and marks is what moves collagraph closer to the direct markmaking of drawing/painting. It makes all of those “unacceptable” (or abject?) marks readily available. Relief collagraph printed with letterpress equipment can be a method of painting or drawing in multiple, with control as good as—if not better than, but also different from—the hand. You’re doing it all wrong (Part 2)

From the first iteration of the manifesto, black & white details of Jan Van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Marriage appear and are manipulated on the cover and throughout. Although they recede in the second iteration, they move strikingly to the fore in the third. Constantly alongside the Arnolfini details has been the ampersand, enlarged, reversed, in different colors, and present — almost ornamentally — within the text line. The increased visuality of the third iteration announces itself on the booklet’s cover and inside with the grainy enlarged detail of the mirror from The Arnolfini Marriage. What do the Arnolfini details signify? Although Van Eyck’s original itself is straightforwardly representational, its meanings are not always any clearer than that of its use in Cohick’s collage. With his slices of black (“a series of edges”) obscuring the image of the groom, perhaps Cohick is compounding obscurities to present “something else // That we did not // Can not yet // See”.

And what about the large overlapping ampersands in red and gray, systematically reversed and alternating in color? Are they emphasizing the “and so on and so on” of tradition in Cohick’s painterly printing technique? Are they alluding to the joining of hands in the marriage? Are they alluding to, and performing, a marriage of the book and visual art? On a verso page in the manifesto’s first iteration, he writes, “The form of the book, the history of the book, and the processes involved in its production provide a foundation for rethinking and re-evaluating the dominant discourse(s) of contemporary art.” On the facing recto page, the Arnolfini bride in reverse from the original extends her hand to a reversed ampersand.

In perhaps the most important enhancement of the third iteration’s visuality, Cohick’s full-blown typographic redesign of the alphabet occupies the visual foreground, middle ground and background. It is as if Cohick sets out to demonstrate Mallarmé’s proposition that the book is the “total expansion of the letter”. The first iteration’s completely legible Palatino, Arial and Placard Condensed typefaces used in the text line have yielded to what Cohick calls a “dislegible” font, which he often reverses, lays out as occasional “running sides” rather than “running heads”, and subjects increasingly to collagraphic layering. In his “You’re doing it all wrong” series, Cohick explains:

If “legible” and “illegible” are binary opposites, then the term “dislegible” is about looking at the space between those two poles. Dislegibility displaces, dislocates, deforms, and/or disrupts the process of reading, with the ultimate goal of making that process of reading (dis)legible to the reader. The dislegible can be read, but it resists closure or certainty.You’re doing it all wrong (Part 1)

Also contributing to dislegibility is the reversal of images, the ampersand and letters. More than that, the reversal reminds us of what is involved in letterpress production — the inked relief surface and its reversed image or letter to be transferred to paper. Always in tension with form, content and reception, production makes up the open field from which the artist’s book emerges. The third iteration exudes production’s physicality. A black saturated endleaf bleeds over onto a stark white sheet that faces a stamped title page, intensifying a feel of mechanical working. Letterforms behave as so much raw material — as if they were oil, acrylic, brick or mortar — to be re-seen from different angles, noted for more than one function and their text read for more than one meaning.

According to Cohick, “For art to thrive, form and content must be in a dynamic relationship… It must contain enough disruptions, ambiguities, and peculiarities to resist the deadly state of stable signification.” The iterations of The New Manifesto enact that statement.

Alphabet One: A Submanifesto of the NewLights Press (2017)

Alphabet One: A Submanifesto of the NewLights Press (2017)
Aaron Cohick
Booklet, center-stapled. Letterpress printed from woven collagraph blocks on newsprint. H165 x W140 mm, 28 pages. Acquired from the artist, 11 December 2020. Edition of 250, unnumbered.
Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

Alphabet One, “companion book to the third iteration of The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press”, presents Cohick’s “complete ‘noise’ alphabet, in order, in condensed and full form”. In The New Manifesto, Cohick has described the book as “a noise of the hands and thought”. Well then, being a book, Alphabet One demonstrates that the manifesto is the alphabet, and the alphabet is the manifesto, and “woven collagraph blocks” could hardly be less “a noise of hands and thought”. Lest those inferences seem strained, continue reading the passage Cohick reproduces from The New Manifesto immediately after the reference to the “complete ‘noise’ alphabet”:

This is not a utopian program // This is not an alphabet for saving the world // Such a thing is a dangerous lie // This is one possibility // Not a tool // But a movement-between // An object-between // A growing // Changing thing // Meant to do just that // It is about attention and its revitalization // It is about structure and our being in it //

A, B, C, D. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

W, X, Y, Z. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

It cannot be an accident that the “noise” alphabet’s letterforms arise from varyingly shaded bricks: rose, gray, reddish gray and reddish black. To left and right of each letter, the rose color dominates. A reddish gray bar tops and tails each letter. The color gray forms the “strokes” of each letter. Reddish black fills the counters. Extracting the signal from the noise of the alphabet or books does not come easily. This is intentional. Just as The New Manifesto says,

With these books // The original autonomous window technology that is us looking through // At // In // Against // With care // The book returns our labor to us //

Days Open Air (2016)

Days Open Air (2016)
Aaron Cohick
Booklet, center-stapled, H203 x W152, 12 pages. Edition of 100, of which this is #40. Acquired from the artist, 11 December 2020.
Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.

Days Open Air is one of those books returning our labor to us that The New Manifesto announces. Cohick call it “an artists’ book/poem thing … an experiment: with our new Risograph, with the alphabet, with writing, with random numbers, and with noise.” Letterforms stretch. Words run sideways, they break in the middle across lines, even across pages.

Look-See (REAED) (2014)

Look-See (REAED) (2014)
Aaron Cohick
Print. H300 x W456 mm.
Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.

More evocative of barcode stripes than bricks, the letterform strokes in this poem-print-poster stretch even more than in Days Open Air. Printed on a Vandercook 219 from vinyl and gesso collagraph blocks, the letterforms challenge us to “look” and “see”. An angle at the top right, two angles midway on the right and two counters condensed to small squares suffice to define the first letter — R. The letters E and A are more efficient, requiring only the placement of two counters each. Note how the textural effect of the gesso and letterpress printed collagraph on chipboard joins The New Manifesto‘s celebration of the physicality and noise of production.

In Cohick’s world, the book and art make, and should be perceived as, a “strange” continuity. His vision and embrace of the collagraph suggest a 21st century version of William Blake. He names his nearer contemporaries as Ken Campbell, Walter Hamady, Amos P. Kennedy, Jr., Karen Kunc, Emily McVarish, Dieter Roth and Nancy Spero. In the Books On Books Collection, those far and near can also be found in Eleonora Cumer, Raffaella della Olga and Geofroy Tory.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Cohick, Aaron. “Notes toward the emergent book (Part 1)“. Book Art Theory, College Book Art Association. 1 July 2019. Accessed 14 May 2021.

Cohick, Aaron. “Notes toward the emergent book (Part 2)“. Book Art Theory, College Book Art Association. 15 July 2019. Accessed 14 May 2021.

Cohick, Aaron. “Notes toward the emergent book (Part 3)“. Book Art Theory, College Book Art Association. 1 August 2019. Accessed 14 May 2021.

Cohick, Aaron. “You’re doing it all wrong (Part 1)“. Book Art Theory, College Book Art Association. 15 September 2020. Accessed 15 May 2021.

Cohick, Aaron. “You’re doing it all wrong (Part 2)“. Book Art Theory, College Book Art Association. 1 October 2020. Accessed 15 May 2021.

Cohick, Aaron. “You’re doing it all wrong (Part 3)“. Book Art Theory, College Book Art Association. 15 October 2020. Accessed 15 May 2021.

Pichler, Michalis, ed. 2019. Publishing manifestos: an international anthology from artists and writers. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Books On Books Collection – Ji Lee

Univers Revolved: A Three-Dimensional Alphabet (2004)

Univers Revolved: A Three-Dimensional Alphabet (2004)
Ji Lee
Sewn paper on board hardback. H338 x W238 mm, 64 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Unoriginal Sins, 12 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In his extended essay on Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard, Eric Zboya celebrates Ji Lee’s 3D typeface by rendering the entire poem in that face. The discovery of that essay led to the acquisition of Zboya’s artist book, which led to the acquisition of Ji Lee’s scarce volume Univers Revolved: A Three-Dimensional Alphabet (2004). Lee’s book resonates with several other works in the Books On Books Collection. Compare it, for example, with Johann David Steingruber’s alphabet book Architectonisches Alphabeth (1773/1973), Paul Noble’s alphabet book Nobson Newtown (1998) and Sammy Engramer’s three-dimensional rendition of Mallarmé’s poem.

This double-page spread displays the manipulation of the alphabet’s first four letters around their axes at two different angles to render their 3D shapes.

These two double-page spreads show the complete alphabet and punctuation marks at two different angles, which provide a key with which to begin reading text spelled out in the book.

Lee teases his reader by composing sentences with different sized letters. “Reading is Fun!” is one of the easier to decipher.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Sammy Engramer”, Books On Books Collection, 1 June 2020.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Eric Zboya“, Books On Books Collection, 1 June 2020.

Zboya, Eric. 2011. Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Translations in Higher Dimensions. Visual Writing 003. Ubu Editions. Accessed 1 February 2019.

Books On Books Collection – Christopher Brennan

Prose-Verse-Poster-Algebraic-Symbolico-Riddle Musicopoematographoscope and Pocket Musicopoematographoscope (1897/1981)

Prose-Verse-Poster-Algebraic-Symbolico-Riddle Musicopoematographoscope and Pocket Musicopoematographoscope (Hale & Iremonger, 1897/1981)
Christopher Brennan
Hardback, facsimile edition of the handwritten manuscript. H390 x W270 x 16 mm, 40 pages. Acquired from Richard Axe Books, 12 November 2020.

Just as Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (1897) launched a new host of visual poems in the 20th and 21st centuries, it also launched a host of homage and parodies. Perhaps the quickest off the dock was the Australian Christopher Brennan. Already a fan of Mallarmé, Brennan, who worked at the New South Wales Public Library, seized on the May 1897 issue of Cosmopolis when it arrived and found in Mallarmé’s poem just the form with which to respond to the rough ride Australian critics had given to his own XXI Poems: MDCCCXCIII-MDCCCXCVII: Towards the Source (1897).

Not until 1981, though, was his tinker’s damn published. Given the debated choices of layout, typeface and illustrations that Un coup de Dés in book form had faced since 1897 and would continue to face after 1981, the choice to publish a facsimile of Brennan’s calligraphic effort was well made — perhaps even artistically original. Book artists have blotted out the poem, excised it, collaged, illustrated, performed, recorded (and cast the sonographs in three-dimensional PVC), programmed it into computer graphics, typed it out on a modified typewriter, and more. But it has not yet had a calligraphic treatment.

Brennan’s Prose-Verse-Poster-Algebraic-Symbolico-Riddle Musicopoematographoscope is the perfect homage and starting point for anniversary celebrations of the publication of Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (1897). There is still time before the 125th anniversary for a new calligraphic homage.

Further Reading

Jim Clinefelter“, Books On Books Collection, 17 July 2020. An American-English mis-translation.

Chris Edwards“, Books On Books Collection, 7 December 2020. An Australian-English mis-translation.

Rodney Graham“, Books On Books Collection, 3 July 2020. Un coup de Dés as instructions to a tattoo artist.

Barnes, Katherine E. “With a smile barely wrinkling the surface: Christopher Brennan’s large Musicopoematographoscope and Mallarmé’s Un Coup de dés“, Dix-Neuf, Vol. 9, No.1 (2007), pp. 44-56. Accessed 25 November 2020.

Fagan, Kate. “‘A Fluke? [N]ever!’: Reading Chris Edwards“, Journal for the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2012). Accessed 25 November 2020.

Bookmarking Book Art – Gary Young and Felicia Rice

Poem: a throw of the dice will never abolish chance (1990)

Mallarmé, Stéphane, D. J. Waldie (trans.), Gary Young, and Felicia Rice. 1990. Poem: a throw of the dice will never abolish chance. [Santa Cruz, Calif.]: Greenhouse Review Press. The binding is full goatskin leather, 15.5 x 11.375 in, 44 pages. Edition of 60. Photos: Courtesy of D. J. Waldie and Gary Young.

To the growing body of homage to Un Coup de Dés, D.J. Waldie and Gary Young added this fine press livre d’artiste. In keeping with Waldie’s reading of Danielle Mihram’s analysis of the proofs of the intended Mallarmé/Vollard livre d’artiste and Waldie’s own examination of the proofs at Harvard, Young’s four woodcuts are presented separately from the text and aim to honor Mallarmé’s desire for images that are “blond and pale” in relation to the white of les blancs and the sharp black of the type. The design by Young and Felicia Rice used several cuttings of Bodoni to approximate the Firmin-Didot of the original proofs.

Further Reading

Robert Bononno & Jeff Clark“, Books On Books Collection, 26 October 2020.

Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp“, Books On Books Collection, 6 November 2020.

Hubert, Renée Riese, and Judd David Hubert, eds. 2003. A Throw of the Dice: Artists Inspired by a Visual Text. Claremont, CA: Scripps College.

Mihram, Danielle. 1979. “The Abortive Didot/Vollard Edition of Un Coup de Dés“. French Studies, 33.1: 39–56.

Waldie, D.J. 2001.”The Ghost of an Obsession: Translating Mallarmé’s A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance“. Parnassus: Poetry in Review , 26.1: 180-85.

Books On Books Collection – Chris Edwards

A Fluke: A Mistranslation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Un Coup De Dés…” with Parallel French Pretext (2005)

A Fluke follows in the footsteps of several parodists of Un coup de Dés and even more “homageurs”. Edwards mingles bilingual homophonic mistranslation with the monolingual variety, false cognates, mis-contextualization and more to deliver his “fluke”. Part of that “more” leads off with the subtitle and the side-by-side prefaces.

The pun in “pretext” plays out not just in the word itself but in Edwards’ squeezing into one page the French predecessor alongside its English exaggeration. The squeeze harks back to Mallarmé’s “Note” being added to the Cosmopolis issue, where it first appeared, at the insistence of the editors. Having led with the pun and clown-car layout, Edwards follows on with a fright wig (mixed metaphors, too, are part of the “more”). He turns Mallarmé’s tongue-in-cheek “I would prefer that one not read this Note or that having read it, one forgets it” into “I wish I knew what lunatic pasted this Note here– …”.

Edwards’ preface is proleptic — to use the word with which the overlording associate professor interrupted the teaching assistant’s nervous first lecture on how a poem’s opening line can encapsulate the working of the whole. (But nevermind the digression, though digression is another part of Edwards’ “more”). In transforming “Lecteur habile” [“practiced Reader”] into “Hannibal Lecter”, Edwards forecasts such transformations as “SOIT / que” [“Whether”] to “SO IT / came to pass”, “l’Abîme” [“the Abyss”] to “the Bistro” and “LE HASARD” [“CHANCE”] to “BIO-HAZARD”. After the preface, Edwards spreads his sails — so to speak. The French moves to the verso, the English to the recto. The double-page spreads of the 1914 edition of Un coup de Dés are nevertheless crammed into a single page to facilitate enjoyment of the pretext’s mistranslation.

But no, “proleptic” is not le mot juste (which juste goes to prove that the professor remains mal dit, if not maudit). Nothing in the side-by-side prefaces prepares the reader (or Hannibal Lecter) for Mallarmé’s “COMME SI …. COMME SI” becoming Edwards’ exactly mapped, appropriately italicized, all caps loan phrase “COMME SI … COMME ÇA“. And so it goes — linguistic, spatial, typographic, cultural antics piled atop each other.

Edwards’ madcapping his way to A Fluke must have been part of a global warming trend in pastiche. How else to explain Jim Clinefelter’ A Throw of the Snore Will Surge the Potatoes (1998), John Tranter’s “Desmond’s Coupé” (2006) and Rodney Graham’s Poème: Au Tatoueur (2011)? If the trend is there, it had a hidden beginning distant in time but geographically close to Edwards.

In New South Wales Public Library in 1897, when that issue of Cosmopolis arrived, a cataloger-cum-poet/scholar named Christopher Brennan seized on it. Shortly after publishing his own XXI Poems: MDCCCXCIII-MDCCCXCVII: Towards the Source (1897), Brennan received several negative reviews of his Mallarmé-influenced poetry. Turning to Un coup de Dés for solace and a format with which to tear the critics to shreds, he performed his own coup in calligraphied manuscript where it remained undelivered until 1981, when it was published in facsimile by Hale & Iremonger (see below). In length alone, its title — Prose-Verse-Poster-Algebraic-Symbolico-Riddle Musicopoematographoscope — must have had some influence on Edwards’ subtitle. Or perhaps it was just a coincidence, a fluke.

Further Reading

Jim Clinefelter“, Books On Books Collection, 17 July 2020. An American-English mis-translation.

Rodney Graham“, Books On Books Collection, 3 July 2020. Un coup de Dés as instructions to a tattoo artist.

Barnes, Katherine E. “With a smile barely wrinkling the surface: Christopher Brennan’s large Musicopoematographoscope and Mallarmé’s Un Coup de dés“, Dix-Neuf, Vol. 9, No.1 (2007), pp. 44-56. Accessed 25 November 2020.

Brennan, Christopher. XXI Poems: MDCCCXCIII-MDCCCXCVII: Towards the Source (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1897).

Edwards, Chris. People of Earth: Poems (Sydney: Vagabond Press, 2011). The mistranslation is printed without the “French pretext”. The briefest comparison provides a convincing argument for the artistic and comic genius of the 2005 version. People of the Earth itself does reveal more of Edwards’ poetic and philosophical grasp of the issues that preoccupied Mallarmé and the avant garde when it comes to language, glyphs, meaning and the technique of collage.

Fagan, Kate. “‘A Fluke? [N]ever!’: Reading Chris Edwards“, Journal for the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2012). Accessed 25 November 2020.

Tranter, John. “Desmond’s Coupé“, Jacket 29, April 2006. Accessed 1 July 2020. Another Australian spoof of Un coup de Dés.

Books On Books Collection – Jérémie Bennequin

Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard, Dé-composition (2009-2013)

In “Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox“, an exhibition in Vienna in 2018, Antoine Lefebvre displayed several rows of works from La Bibliothèque Fantastique. They were pinned to the wall at the rear of the exhibition space. One work and one only made up the third row from the bottom: Jérémie Bennequin’s hommage to Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés, clearly not singular and missing its “h” and “m”. An exhibition hall is a difficult setting in which to explore a multi-volume work of book art much less answer the questions “Why omage?” and “Why the hyphenation of “décomposition” at the foot of all twenty covers?”

Away from the exhibition and onto Bennequin’s and Lefebvre’s websites, the intrigue only grew with the knowledge that nineteen of those twenty booklets are the results of algorithmically die-driven live performances of erasing the text from Mallarmé’s poem. With several works of homage to Un Coup de Dés in the Books On Books Collection, Bennequin’s omage composed with a single seemed an essential addition.

Dé-composition arrives in a sturdy cardboard box.

Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard, Dé-composition (2009-2013)
Jérémie Bennequin
Cardboard box of 20 livres d’artistes. Each booklet 210 x 150 mm, 28 pages.
Paris: Éditions de La Bibliothèque Fantastique. Photos: Books On Books Collection

Booklet 1.0, which reproduces Mallarmé’s complete poem in its 1897 format, also contains a preface to Bennequin’s multi-volume boxed work. Arguing in the preface that Un Coup de Dés does not abolish chance but rather enhances, elevates, ennobles it, Bennequin poses the questions that initiate his homage. The first is:

“Or, le hasard peut-il abolir Un Coup de Dés?” (So, can chance abolish Un Coup de Dés?)

Bennequin argues that, being an artist of the eraser, he is well-suited to erasing or abolishing Mallarmé’s work, and that rolling the die to direct his act of erasure or abolition is fitting. But then comes his second crucial question:

… comment définir au juste, dans le détail, la cible de chaque coup? (how to define in detail the target of each throw?)

After considering such targets as the letter, the word, the page, the double-page spread, Bennequin settles on the syllable for reasons reflecting Mallarmé’s own theories of poetry and music. Booklet 1.0 represents the starting point, with the next volume 1.1 being the outcome of the end of a live performance on 23 October 2009, which involved Bennequin decomposing Mallarmé’s poem by repeatedly rolling a die then locating, vocalising and erasing the syllable corresponding to the number rolled. This occurred on computer screen in real time. With each of the subsequent eighteen performances, the starting point was the state arrived at in the preceding booklet; 1.2 began with 1.1, 1.3 with 1.2 and so on. By the last performance, very little — but something — of Un Coup de Dés was left. As Bennequin puts it in the last sentence of his preface: “Le hasard jamais n’abolira Un Coup de Dés” (Chance will never abolish Un Coup de Dés).

To answer those awkward questions asked in the exhibition hall: First, the removal of “h” and “m” from hommage to create omage is a visual clue to the work’s destructive/creative process — the die-driven algorithm’s targeting and erasure of phonemes. Second, the isolation of “dé” in the hyphenation of décomposition puns self-reflexively — as book art so often does — on the singular of dés, underscoring the means of Bennequin’s paradoxical decomposition/composition. No matter how this work is displayed or examined, it puts before us a visual constellation of fragments of sound. But, having completed the performances leading to this particular self-reflexive constellation, Bennequin produced another self-reflexive work, an homage within an homage.

Le Hasard n’abolira jamais un Coup de Dés, Omage (2014)

Le Hasard n’abolira jamais un Coup de Dés, Omage (2014)
Jérémie Bennequin
Perfect bound, 325 x 25 mm, 32 pages.
Paris, Éditions Yvon Lambert, Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Le Hasard n’abolira jamais un Coup de Dés replicates in size, colour and appearance the 1914 edition Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard. The main textual difference — the inversion of the title — announces the work as an homage to Mallarmé. But a smaller textual difference — the replacement of Poème with Omage — subtly announces another homage: to Broodthaers’ 1969 homage to Mallarmé. Broodthaers had replaced the word Poème on the 1914 edition’s cover with the word Image.

But it is Le Hasard‘s preface that unequivocally announces its homage to Broodthaers’ homage. Broodthaers had printed all the text of Un Coup de Dés as a “Préface” within a left- and right-justified block of text, and he omitted Mallarmé’s own preface. He then went on to blot out Mallarmé’s verses and their carefully placed typographical rendering with strips of black, shaped with equal care.

Bennequin returns the favour of Broodthaers’ transformative gestures at least twice over. Like Broodthaers’ opening block of text, Bennequin’s includes all the text of Mallarmé’s poem but renders it in phonetic symbols. Even the word Préface is replaced with [pRefas]. The square brackets in Bennequin’s block of text surround the verse units that Broodthaers went on to blot out. In further gestures of lese-majesty to Broodthaers and Mallarmé, Bennequin adds his own explanatory “Note” in place of Mallarmé’s note, the one omitted by Broodthaers. Furthermore, signalling an inversion to come, Bennequin inverts the order of words in Broodthaers’ block of text. The last line of verse in Mallarmé’s poem and in Broodthaers’ block of text is “Toute Pensée émet un Coup de Dés” (All thought issues a throw of the dice). The first verse in Bennequin’s square of text is [tutpãseemɛœ̃kudəde].

The “inversion to come” lies in the subsequent pages where Bennequin inverts Mallarmé’s words and lets them peek out in white from behind Broodthaers’ black strips. He “un-erases” Broodthaers’ erasure. He uses white on black to re-emphasize the black on white abstraction created by Broodthaers. But that inversion is more than meets the eye.

In his preface to Dé-composition, Bennequin has already shown us an exact inversion of Mallarmé’s title: “Le hasard jamais n’abolira Un Coup de Dés”. Moving jamais to its grammatically correct position, Le Hasard’s inversion of the title is deft artistic lèse-majesté. It proclaims the bookwork as allusive to but distinct from Dé-composition and its preface — and distinct from the two targets of homage. As “omage” to Mallarmé, Le Hasard does not abolish Un Coup de Dés; it pulls it back from obliteration albeit by inversion. As “Omage” to Broodthaers, Le Hasard does not abolish the “Image”; it re-establishes the link between the black-imaged “musical” score and the sounds of the text — again albeit by inversion and also phonetic symbols.

Allusive, self-allusive, creative and subversive through inversion — Le Hasard is a new constellation born from that encounter with the twin stars preceding it.

Sur un rêve de John Cage… les rayons roses d’un jour qui se lève colorent doucement un Mo(n)t de poussière… (2020)

Sur un rêve de John Cage… les rayons roses d’un jour qui se lève colorent doucement un Mo(n)t de poussière… (2020)
Jérémie Bennequin
MP4, duration 08:42.

Erasure is Bennequin’s paintbrush, sculpting tool and pen. Before his “omages” to Mallarmé and Broodthaers, Bennequin created “Ommage” (a play on gomme, the French for eraser) by rubbing out the words on each page of the seven volumes of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. From this effort, he issues artist books in limited editions. But nothing goes to waste — not the eraser dust, not the worn erasers, not the activity, not even the sound.

Mo(n)ts et Tom(b)es is the display of small mountains of erased words (ink, paper and rubber) alongside the ruined tomes from which they came. Sur un rêve de John Cage … takes this work to another level. Bennequin has filmed a gradual passage of light over one such small mountain of erased words and timed it to coincide with a performance of Cage’s Dream (1948). In its visual effect, it could also be an homage to Cézanne’s Mont Saint Victoire series or Monet’s paintings of Rouen Cathedral. In its fusion of light, sound, material and thought, it takes us from the whimsy of omage and ommage to meditation.

Sur un rêve de John Cage … is a freely downloadable multimedia work of art.

Le Hasard N’Abolira Jamais Un Coup de Dés (Changes of Music) (2020)

Le Hasard N’Abolira Jamais Un Coup de Dés (Changes of Music) (2020)
Jérémie Bennequin
Film (4 minutes, 33 seconds) recorded on USB drive, embedded in cloth-tape-bound foam boards. H210 x W150 mm. Edition of 6, of which this is #2. Photos: Books on Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

The film records dice being thrown against the open pages of Bennequin’s 2014 omage (see above). Continuing with his technique of homage within homage, Bennequin’s Le Hasard N’Abolira Jamais Un Coup de Dés (Changes of Music) reverses John Cage’s 1951 Music of Changes not only in its title but also in its recorded notes. While the object in the Books on Books Collection fixes the reversal in the film on the USB drive, the reader can view and listen to it here and compare the recording with Cage’s original here.

Further Reading

Bennequin, Jérémie. “Lecture”. Leeds Beckett University, 25 February 2016. Accessed 10 April 2020.

Briers, David. “Reading as Art”, Art Monthly, October 2016, pp. 25-26.

Mœglin-Delcroix, Anne. “De l’appropriation artistique d’œuvres littéraires dans le livre d’artiste: entre destruction et incorporation” in Annette Gilbert (ed.), Wiederaufgelegt. Zur Appropriation von Texten und Büchern in Büchern (Bielefeld : transcript, 2012) p. 233-264).

Pigeat, Anaëlle. “Jérémie Bennequin, effacements“, Art Press, No. 432, April 2016, pp. 66-67. Accessed 10 April 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Raffaella della Olga

LINE UP (2020)

LINE UP (2020)
Raffaella della Olga
Cloth on board with spiral binding of 28 card folios. H270 x W290 mm (closed). Edition of twenty-six, of which this is #8. Acquired from Three Star Books, 4 November 2020. Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with the artist’s permission.

Formerly a lawyer, Raffaella della Olga turned from the manipulation of legal text to the artistry of the letter and its “total expansion” — the book — as well as its manifestation in light and textiles. Her chief tool of art is a set of customized typewriters. Most of her works are unique pieces, each entitled with the emblematic letter T followed by the ordinal number of its creation — up to T28 as of this writing.

T28 Alphabet (2019/2020)
Raffaella dell Olga
Typewritten on paper and silk paper with carbon paper 485 x 435 mm. Image:
© Raffaella della Olga and reproduced with the artist’s permission.

The limited edition of LINE UP offered an unusual opportunity to add to the Books On Books collection a work that resonates with its subset of abecedaries and one by an artist who shares a deep interest in another theme in the collection: Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard. Since 2009, she has created bookworks that reveal an artist’s and careful reader’s appreciation of the poem.

Title page and colophon from LINE UP. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with the artist’s permission.

LINE UP is very much a collaborative work between Raffaella della Olga and Three Star Books, founded in 2007 by Christophe Boutin and Mélanie Scarciglia with Cornelia Lauf (2007-2015). The edition consists of twenty-six spiral-bound copies, each with a unique cover produced by rubbings on canvas and differently colored. The title page and colophon take up two of the card folios in the volume, which leaves twenty-six for the printed content. Blocks of vertical blue lines turn the pages into letters based on the Epps-Evans alphabet, designed in the 1960s with only horizontal and vertical strokes in an attempt at machine readability.

Alphabet (1970)
Timothy Epps and Dr. Christopher Evans
Hilversum: de Jong & Co., 1970. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Discerning the letters in LINE UP feels sometimes like squinting one’s way through an optical illusion. The eye is bewitched by a color-shifting, almost stroboscopic effect created by four squares of embossed lines printed from the reverse side, always in the same position. Della Olga credits Christophe Boutin (Three Star Press) with introducing this effect.

The letters “a”, “b” and “c”.

Left: The four embossed squares seen from the verso. Right: The color shift between the embossed and flat squares.

The letter “k” at different angles of light.

The first of della Olga’s works reflecting the influence of Mallarmé’s poem was Un Coup De Dés Jamais N’abolira Le Hasard – Constellation (2009), which was shown in the Gulbenkian’s “Pliure” exhibition in Paris in 2015. In a darkened room with an attendant turning the pages, the poem’s words, painted in phosphorescent powder, flickered into existence.

Un Coup De Dés Jamais N’abolira Le Hasard – Constellation (2009)
Raffaella della Olga
Hand made work, white acrylic paint, phosphorescent powder, glue. H320 × 500 mm. Photos: © Raffaella della Olga, reproduced with permission of the artist.

A year later came this rendition: Jamais Le Hasard N’abolira Un Coup De Dés – Permutation (2010). Although the link goes to an online presentation, the work is analogue and unique. In correspondence (9 December 2020), Della Olga writes, “I took apart the book the Gallimard edition as a whole, without the paratext. I folded the double pages and deleted with white paint the part of the poem that appear.” A close look at the framed pages reveals the faint shadows of the painted-over text. On the wall, the permutation arises in the changeable order of hanging, which the online algorithm permits the viewer to perform.

Jamais Le Hasard N’abolira Un Coup De Dés – Permutation (2010)
Raffaella della Olga
Randomly generated computer graphic.

Her most recent homage to Mallarmé’s poem is Un Coup de Dés – Trame (2018). Like Constellation with its reference to and enacting of the poem’s constellation metaphor, and like Permutation with its reference to and enacting of chance, Trame well reflects della Olga’s penetration of the poem and transformation of it into artwork that stands strongly on its own and in comparison with other works of homage by Marcel Broodthaers, Michalis Pichler and Cerith Wyn Evans.

Un Coup de Dés – Trame (2018)
Raffaella della Olga
Unique. Typewritten on tracing paper with fabric and carbon paper, 320 × 500 mm. Image: © Raffaella della Olga, reproduced with permission of the artist.

The word trame is le mot juste in its application to the work and its referent. Its meanings — frame, woof, weft and weaving — shift across the work’s technique and material and evoke the poem’s typographical weaving as a framework with which to realize the “total expansion of the letter”.

Here’s hoping for further expansion into limited editions.

Further Reading

Total Expansion of the Letter, Trevor Stark (MIT Press, 2020): Review“, Books On Books, 19 October 2020.

Epps, Timothy, and Christopher Evans. 1970. Alphabet (Typeface … designed by Timothy Epps in collaboration with Dr. Christopher Evans). Hilversum: Steendrukkerij de Jong & Co.

Owens, Sarah. “Electrifying the alphabet“, Eye, no. 62, vol. 16, 2006. Accessed 23 November 2020.

Spencer, Herbert, and Colin Forbes. New Alphabets A to Z (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1974). Source of the artist’s first encounter with the Epps-Evans alphabet. (Correspondence with Books On Books, 6 December 2020)

Books On Books Collection – Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’abolira le Hasard (1980)

Poème: Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard par Stéphane Mallarmé (1980)
Édition Mise en Oeuvre et Présentée par Mitsou Ronat, Réalisée par Tibor Papp.
Two sets of folded & gathered folios, enclosed in a portfolio with four flaps; Portfolio: H380 x W285 mm; Folios: H380 x W285 mm; Poème, 24 pages, including the cover; “Le Genre …”, 28 pages, not including cover. Acquired from Latour Infernal, 28 May 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Described as an “édition mise en oeuvre“, the Ronat/Papp 1980 publication of Un Coup de Dés is indeed as much a “production” as any theatrical or cinematic mise en scéne. Equally apropos or more so, the phrase calls to mind the French for page layout: mise-en-page. The layout of the work certainly calls attention to itself as much as to the page. While it represents an effort to reflect Mallarmé’s “true” intentions for the page layout of Un Coup de Dés, the Ronat/Papp production delivers the poem in a set of loose F&Gs (folded and gathered folios), paired with another set of F&Gs (artwork, poems and essays) and enclosed in a portfolio.

The first effort to follow Mallarmé’s intention as intimated in his corrected proofs of the abandoned Ambroise Vollard version was the 1914 NRF edition, which also called attention to itself with its oversized format, but it was sewn and bound into its paper cover as usual. Its lay-flat binding eased reading the lines of verse that run across the book’s gutter.

By unbinding that space that usually sinks into the gutter, Ronat and Papp retain the readability across the gutter but introduce an interesting instability. The unitary view of the double-page spread that Mallarmé intended falls prey to physical chance. Lines across pages can fall out of alignment as folios slip up or down. If the folios scatter, the reordering of the unnumbered pages relies on the guidance of the typography and memory. Oddly this forces a more hands-on engagement with the poem. No other edition intended for reading the poem feels as physical. The page and double-page spreads are felt.

Although also not bound, the order of the artwork, poems and essays in the right-hand set of F&Gs is traditionally fixed with pagination, as the front of its self-covering folio shows. More important is the cover title: “Le genre, que c’en devienne un …” (“the genre, that it becomes one …”). Those words begin the final sentence in the reproduction of Mallarmé’s reluctant note from the poem’s first publication. Cramped into the magazine Cosmopolis, the poem’s layout was still startling enough to the editors to require a preface from Mallarmé. Facetiously and seriously, his note explains how to read the poem. In varied ways, the F&Gs’ content also seriously and facetiously demonstrates how to read the poem. And starting and ending with Mallarmé’s words, the portfolio’s second half reflects the circularity of the poem it faces, which starts and ends with the words un coup de dés. An édition mise en oeuvre in deed.

So forget the debate over who was first to display the poem in the true form as Mallarmé intended. The second portfolio is proclaiming then proving by examples that Un Coup de Dés is a genre.

Mitsou Ronat‘s introduction sets the poem’s publishing history in context and explains this edition’s claim to reflect Mallarmé’s wishes for the poem’s presentation. In doing so, she puts forward her hypothesis that le Nombre (“the Number”) mysteriously posed in the poem is 12, the syllable count of each line in the French alexandrine couplet and ties this revelation to the page and double-page spread as units of meaning, culminating in the 24 pages of which the mise en oeuvre consists. Tibor Papp follows with his map of Déville (“Dice-town”). Overlapping inscriptions along the crisscrossing streets remind us of the sometimes overlooked humor in the Mallarmé industry. One street is labelled Saint-Mallarmé de la masturbation. Off one boulevard are the remparts des alexandrins (“battlements of the Alexandrines”), complete with a WC for passers-by. There is even a Métro stop named for Mallarmé’s Igitur, thematic predecessor to Un Coup de Dés. Another recalls the political cast of the times: premières allusions à la lutte des marginaux oubliées (“first allusions to the struggle of the forgotten marginalized”). But most important is the map as map, a poster, a sub-genre of the genre Un coup de Dés and forerunner to future works such as that by Aurélie Noury. In his essay near the end of the F&Gs, Papp asserts that Mallarmé was not preoccupied with print and typography for its haptic properties, rather he was simply seeking the tools appropriate to complete his text. This is Papp’s departure point for discussing the aims of Le Groupe d’atelier, which he founded with Paul Nagy and Philippe Dôme in 1972:

Pour l’écrivain, donc, d’aujourd’hui, l’attitude de mallarmé scrutant les caractères des affiches, travaillant ses épreuves par collage, déplaçant ses mots d’un millimétre, est une attitude parfaitement normale et logique, en même temps que son poème constitue un classique du genre.

Pour nous, l’écrivain assume son rôle jusqu’à la materialité de son texte.

“For today’s writer, then, the Mallarméan scrutiny of type display, working on his proofs by collage, moving his words by one millimeter, is perfectly normal and logical behavior, at the same time that his poem constitutes a classic of the genre.

For us, the writer’s role entails the materiality of the text.”

The remaining contributors traverse the ranges of the academic and artistic, the tongue-in-cheek and the serious, that Ronat and Papp establish. A more textual affair, “n’abolira Lazare” by Jacques Roubaud, a member of the OuLiPo movement, delivers an homage to Mallarmé replete with numerical and linguistic puns, appropriate to a professor of mathematics and literature, and a translator of Lewis Carroll. Bruno Montels‘ “Convoquer le peu” displays his signature combination of handwriting and typographic experimentation.

L’Entre croisement” by Jean Pierre Faye (a visual linguistic pun, “threshold” and “intersection”) reads like notes for an academic lecture but in a free-verse layout. The poet/essayist Claude Minière‘s “Le Risque Picaresque” foreshadows(?) his essay Un Coup de Dés (Tinbad, 2019), which proposes Pascal’s wager and Pensées as a predecessor to Mallarmé.

Peruvian poet and writer Rodolfo Hinostroza‘s “Le Dieu de la Page Blanche” (“The God of the Blank Page”) delivers a diagrammatic exploration of the placement of verses on the page in Un coup de Dés, reminiscent of but less abstruse than Ernest Fraenkel’s Rohrschach-like exposition. Philippe Dôme draws on his time as a French and Spanish teacher in London to put together pages of a multilingual study workbook for the reader of Un Coup de Dés. Clearly a lover of puns, he entitles his workbook with Spanish interrogatory marks around the face of a die, the 4 constructed with two colons.

Perhaps the most striking of the visual homages, Paul Nagy‘s contribution is a descendant of Un Coup de Dés by conscious or unconscious way of the earlier typographic and graphic gymnastics of Dada, Marinetti, Iliazd, Gomringer, the Brazilian Noigrandes movement and Fluxus.

In its unbound folios approach to the poem and juxtaposition of it with artistic interpretations of the poem, the Ronat/Papp production marked a pivot for future treatments of Un coup de Dés. Over the decades after it, three new editions — also aimed at reflecting the Master’s wishes — appeared as did dozens of inventive academic and artistic responses to Un Coup de Dés. The three explorations of the “true” edition (in French) are Michel Pierson‘s (2002), Françoise Morel‘s (2007) and Ypsilon Éditeur‘s (2008). Though the artworks paying homage since 1980 are too numerous to list for this entry, note that Books On Books is preparing a virtual 125th anniversary celebration for 2022 that will display images and links for all the homage paid since 1897 that it has uncovered — from Man Ray’s Les Mystères du Château de Dé (1929) to Sylvain Moore’s Troisième Coup de Dés (2019).

Further Reading

Arnar, Anna Sigrídur. The Book as Instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the Artist’s Book and the Transformation of Print Culture (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

Fraenkel, Ernest. Les Dessins trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé : à propos de la typographie de “Un Coup de dés” (Paris: Nizet, 1960).

Meillassoux, Quentin. The Number and the Siren (2012). Meissaloux argues the toss with Ronat over the identity of le Nombre.

Moulinier, Didier. “Pour une histoire de la poésie concrète“, La Poèsie Élèmentaire, 5 March 2011. Accessed 5 November 2020.

Stark, Trevor. Total Expansion of the Letter: Art and Language after Mallarmé (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020).

Bookmarking Book Art – Adam Smyth

13 March 1911 (2019)

13 March 1911 (2019)
Adam Smyth
Perfect bound paperback. H175x W115 mm, 64 pages. Edition of 500. Acquired from Information as Material, 10 October 2020.

Although unremarkable in its production values, 13 March 1911 enters the collection as a brilliant composite with roots in OuLiPo, Grangerism and the collage technique, Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations and The Arcades Project and Stéphane Mallarmé’s “The Book, Spiritual Instrument”. The date is the birth date of Smyth’s grandfather, and it is what confronts us in a photographic detail of a newspaper masthead.

From OuLiPo, Smyth takes the rule of constraint to guide his creation. The constraint is that the content presented must refer to events occurring on 13 March 1911 and in chronological order. Added to the constraint are citability of each source, which often takes Smyth to the Internet and Wayback Machine. Although focused on a single day in time, the writer, book and reader fly back and forth as if tethered together in a time machine composed of print and digital reference material.

Strictly with Grangerism, there should be a previously published book into and onto which the reader/actor inserts, pastes and attaches clippings relevant to the book in hand. Instead of a book in hand, Smyth has a date in hand to which the clippings accrue. And in keeping with this non-material target for Grangerizing, Smyth’s collage technique eschews visual and physical overlapping, rather it lies more in overlapping different types of sources of “data”: newspaper articles, classified ads, advertisements, Captain Scott’s journal, weather reports, obituaries, theater reviews and much more.

In a sort of reversal of Benjamin’s unpacking his library, Smyth packs snippets from history into this one book that turns on his grandfather’s birth date. It is not that Smyth can recreate him with all these snippets, or that the reader can ever know the man from those snippets — anymore than a reader of every single book in Benjamin’s library could recreate Benjamin or know him from doing so.

Like Benjamin in Arcades, Smyth is a collector of fragments by which he tries to make the past present. But Smyth’s time machine is also richly multi-dimensional — especially in its being digitally and print powered. What Smyth gives himself and the reader is an extended moment of recognizing the wide-flung welter around any of us at any time and the wryness, despair, amusement, inspiration and poignancy of trying to define, find and memorialize others (however close) or ourselves by that welter — however retrievable or citable the elements of it.

Finally, Smyth gives us one day’s proof of Mallarmé’s dictum: “everything in the world exists to end up in a book”. And so it ends up in the Books On Books Collection.

Further Browsing

Information as Material (Smyth’s 13 March 1911 is a publication with IAM, which offers works from authors such as Derek Beaulieu, Francesca Capone, Craig Dworkin, Andrew Dodds, Sharon Kivland, Simon Morris and Nick Thurston).